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5 May 2008
Internet Sex-Seeking Risks Quantified
by George Atkinson

Young men who have sex with men are disproportionately affected by the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the United States, with male-to-male sexual contact accounting for 74 percent of new HIV diagnoses among men aged 13 to 24 years. Now, a new study by researchers at the University of Minnesota may go some way to explaining the disparity in infection rates.

According to the new study, appearing in the American Journal of Public Health, young Internet-using men who have sex with men AND who meet their sexual partners both online and offline have greater numbers of partners, appear more likely to contract HIV, and report higher substance use rates than those who meet their partners exclusively online or offline.

Worryingly, a greater percentage of the group reported unprotected anal intercourse (43 percent) in the past three months. A smaller number of those who met partners exclusively online (29 percent) or exclusively offline (34 percent) reported having unprotected anal sex in the past three months. The researchers concluded that meeting partners both online and offline and being drunk or high during the last sexual encounter increased the odds of having more partners and engaging in unprotected anal intercourse.

"We've known since about 2000 that the Internet has dramatically changed HIV risk for gay men and other men who have sex with men," said Simon Rosser, principal investigator on the study. "We are starting to understand some of the more subtle differences so we can get beyond broad generalizations to a real understanding of the risk, and then design effective responses."

The researchers say that more intervention in the online environment may help young men better understand the risks involved. Rather than focusing on the dangers of online sex seeking, Internet-based intervention programs should encourage at-risk young men who have sex with men to decrease the frequency at which they engage in unprotected anal intercourse, reduce their numbers of sexual partners, avoid alcohol and other substance use in sexual situations, and seek HIV testing, the study suggests.

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Source: University of Minnesota

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